MISS DARLENE’S DANCING SCHOOL
by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
Miss Darlene, dark, slender, acne-scarred,
married next-door Marvin and came to share
his basement flat. Upstairs, his mother
claimed Miss Darlene had danced with the Rockettes.
She opened a dancing school a block away.
We girls on the block were conscripted to take lessons,
to help support the newly-married couple.
We got shiny black patent leather shoes
with black ribbons and taps on heels and toes.
We danced to East Side, West Side,
all around the town. I can still perform
the opening bars today, but my lessons ended
at a step called the Buffalo, which I never mastered
because Miss Darlene’s closed, she got pregnant.
That was postwar Brooklyn, known for dullness,
before the West Indians came with their bouncy speech
and the Jews in drear black coats and uglifying
wigs. Pre-chic Brooklyn, before the new
colonizers parked their double strollers
outside the bookstores and the restaurants
serving foods Miss Darlene had never heard of.
One scorching summer afternoon
I visited my old street. The West Indians
had adorned the porches with wrought iron curlicues
and painted the front doors in fanciful hues.
Children played in the street as we had done,
the parents on the stoops fanning themselves.
I was the only white person. Near the house
of the family who’d owned the funeral parlor—the hearse
in the driveway at the ready, a reminder–
stood a Mister Softee truck. I got in line.
A woman asked, What was I doing there?
I didn’t say this was my childhood home, simply
that I wanted ice-cream, and she said,
You must want it real bad, to come out here.
Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s eight novels include Leaving Brooklyn (nominated for a PEN/Faulkner Award), Rough Strife (nominated for a National Book Award), Disturbances in the Field, and Two-Part Inventions. She is also the author of several collections of essays, stories, and poetry, and translations from Italian. She teaches at the Bennington Writing Seminars.